Nikolai Eshtokin

medical psychologist of the center for working with suicidal ideations, psychotherapist,
Balint group leader

During the last couple of years I have had experience of conducting Balint groups online as a part of the training project for hotline consultants working with children and adolescents (Khabarovsk), in a continuous education program for psychologists at Southern Federal University (clinical psychology) and in conducting one of my long-term groups online in Skype or Zoom for 2,5 months because of the pandemic.

Rules of online work

For a more effective and dynamic functioning of the group I chose the rules of the group’s work that take into account the specifics of online interaction and additional commitments of the members:

— a member should guarantee a private space free from interruptions and consistently participate in the session

— to exclude distracting family factors

— in the beginning one needs to introduce themselves (profession, work experience) and be ready to present a case and share one’s current mood and feelings (30-40 seconds for this part in the beginning)

— if the picture gets frozen, the members are expected to turn their cameras and microphones off, only the one who is about to speak unmutes themselves

— if a member’s connection got broken, they have to send a message about it to the group chat and try to restore the connection asap (it is advisory to have a back up device with the Internet access)

— the group waits for the member to restore the connection for a couple of minutes but if it does not happen, the group resumes working without the member

— while everyone has their cameras off, the member who is about to speak should say their name before they speak and say thank you and that they finished talking at the end of their statement

— the group leader chooses an assistant that may serve as a moderator if the leader has technical glitches

— one needs to have another device available for accessing the group in case the first one fails

Zoom or Skype?

Technical possibilities and limitations.

Skype — limited number of members (6-8). When everyone has their cameras and microphones on, the connection may get frozen (the sound gets distorted and the picture is blurred).

Zoom — bigger possible number of members — 12-15. This platform provides a stable and quality image and sound.

What a BG leader should pay attention to while working online:

— be aware of a limited scope of observable non-verbal behavior of the group members (facial expressions, gestures, posture)

— pay more attention to the member’s unconscious responses (slips, pauses, intonation etc)

— more emphasis is made on verbal aspects of behavior

— parallel process is less explicit

— group matrix works effectively if the leader has a list of members at hand and pays attention to all the professionals in the group.